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How to build successful ecosystems: A snackbar in Brussels as the ultimate example

Dries Faems: November 15, 2019

At first sight, the Place du Jourdan in Brussels does not look like a very attractive place. The square is mainly used by locals as a parking spot and some of the houses around the square could benefit from a renovation. In the evening, however, this square is one of the most popular places for locals to hang out. Every night, the square is buzzing with activity, with people from multiple nationalities occupying the local terraces of different bars. Not only regular people, but also the most prominent European actors tend to visit this square when they are in Brussels. After one of the numerous recent crisis meetings, Angela Merkel, for instance, was spotted at this square, holding freshly baked French Frites from the local snack bar Maison Antoine in her hands.

Situated in the middle of the square, this snack bar is indeed the pivotal point of the Place du Jourdan. However, the success of Maison Antoine is not primarily driven by the taste of their French Fries. Instead, the core recipe for success is their collaboration with the drinking bars that surround it. In particular, people, who have bought their French Fries at Maison Antoine, are allowed to eat them on the terraces of the local bars as long as a beverage is consumed. As a result, Place du Jourdan is transformed every night into a crowded space, where people first buy their fried delicacies at Maison Antoine and subsequently consume them in combination with one of the famous Belgian beers.

In this way, Place du Jourdan nicely illustrates the power of business ecosystems. In the academic literature, business ecosystems are defined as a collective of actors who, through jointly offering a set of complementary products or services, are able to deliver additional added value to the end-user. This is exactly what Maison Antoine and the surrounding bars are offering. They have established a clear collaborative arrangement that offers consumers a unique and attractive culinary experience. At the same time, it demonstrates one of the core principles of ecosystem governance: this kind of collaborative constellations can only be successful if all involved actors are willing to give away some of the value to the collaborating partners. The fact that people are allowed to eat their French Fries at the local bars implies that these bars will not be able to sell a lot of food themselves. At the same time, Maison Antoine is not able to sell a lot of beverages as people will consume their drinks at the local terraces.

Do you see opportunities for connecting with external partners in order to increase the added value of your offerings to customers and are you willing to give away some of the resulting gains to these partners?  If the answer is yes, you might be on your way to build your own successful and sustainable ecosystem.

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